The week I became a single occupant

It has been nigh upon twelve months since I became what Argyll & Bute council refers to on their local authority tax application form as a ‘single occupant’, which sounds like a bureaucratic way of saying that I am not yet mature enough to cohabit with another person.   Over time I would gradually become used to being a man who lives in his own space, but on the afternoon when I was handed the keys to my first flat I wasn’t entirely sure what was supposed to happen next.  I stood in the barren kitchen – my kitchen – and surveyed the scene, as though hoping that the previous owner had left behind some inspiration and it would fall from a cupboard at any moment, but all that was in the boiler cupboard was what the woman described as “a set of summer net curtains.”

Do I take a meter reading?  How do I take a meter reading?  It wasn’t immediately obvious.  Should I familiarise myself with how the heating system works?  Introduce myself to my new neighbours?  Perhaps walk through the property and analyse what kind of storage space I have before everything was due to be moved in the following week?

I considered all of these options before I reached into my bag for the bottle of Perez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2014 which I had been saving for more than a year, for no particular occasion other than such a time as I might feel like drinking a bottle of wine.  I poured the fragrant red wine into a small neon green plastic party tumbler, recently purchased in a set of four from Tesco and the only drinks container I had brought with me, and over the course of the next two hours, I went on to drink the entire bottle.  The remainder of the night was lost in a grape infused fog.  It was a scene which was destined to be repeated.

For many months I was fighting a constant struggle to remember what I had done with the keys to my flat.  I would find myself reaching for my pocket to handle my keys at intervals so frequent during the day that any half competent doctor would have classified it as obsessive behaviour.  I always liked to know that they were there, in a manner similar to how a younger version of myself, newly discovering the virtues of boyhood, enjoyed knowing that my testicles were still there.  Whenever I was in the flat my favourite place to sit my keys was always on the breakfast bar, and I would regularly make trips through to the kitchen, under the guise of ‘making a coffee’ or ‘recycling’, to make sure that the keys were still where I had left them.  I was never sure where else I was thinking they could possibly be, or who could have moved them considering that it is a small flat and it is only me living in it, but I could never stop myself from checking anyway.  In spite of this mild obsession, there were often occasions when I was leaving the flat that I  would reach the other side of the front door only to realise that my keys were still stranded on the breakfast bar.

When I wasn’t thinking about my keys,  much of my time was spent considering whether there is some kind of specific science behind the way people decide which kitchen cupboard will be allocated to certain goods.  I inherited thirteen cupboards of varying size, which not only seemed like an unlucky number to me but also felt like too many for any single man.  Some of those cupboards had an immediately obvious purpose:  the two with glass-fronted doors proved ideal for displaying wine and beer glasses; the short and wide cupboard situated above the oven hob was surely built for the storage of pots and pans; the area under the sink is the natural home for cleaning materials, while another cupboard nearby was already populated with crockery. But what goes in the other eight cupboards?  Even after living in the flat for a year, the question hasn’t been fully answered.

Over time, Sunday afternoon became the part of the week where I would go to the supermarket for a pantry shop, stocking up on typical kitchen necessities like oil and vinegar and salt and pepper and stock cubes and pasta and rice.  I remember the first time I filled my cupboards with such essential goods, and how I was feeling good about my achievements as I went about the task of storing cans of tuna fish and chopped tomatoes, three or four at a time, as though I was preparing for some impending apocalypse.  Yet doubts began to creep into my mind as condiments were introduced to one another like children on the first day of school.  Is it alright to store different ethnic flavours such as soy sauce and Dijon mustard in the same place?  Surely it is in 2018, I thought to myself.

In the end, I decided to keep them separate, but I couldn’t help but worry about an occasion where I might find myself in need of pesto and mayonnaise, and whether I would be able to find them.  Would there be confusion if macaroni and green Thai curry paste were stored in the same cupboard?  It could lead to a terrible culinary catastrophe and much mocking at dinner parties.  The issue kept me awake for hours on several nights during that first week, and even today I am not settled on my organisation.

Despite my fears over the arrangement of my kitchen cupboards, the rest of my small bachelor pad was quickly regimented with precision.  The books in my bookcase – which, strictly speaking, is more of a book cupboard – were catalogued in alphabetical order, firstly by author and then by title, and if neither of those was appropriate, then by the colour of the cover, which was really flying close to the rule of never judging a book by its cover.  The bedroom wardrobe, which stretches all the way from the floor to the high Victorian ceiling, was brought to life with my suits and shirts arranged by colour, ranging from dark shades to light, and my multitude of ties folded neatly onto two tie racks.  If I couldn’t find pak choi, I would at least be able to locate my pink tie.

When moving day arrived I felt that the best way of focussing my mind amidst all the upheaval and of providing company in an otherwise lonely flat would be to surround myself with houseplants.  There were three left for me at my request by the previous owner and in the days after moving in I added a further two.  I imagined that it would be beneficial to have another living element in the place, something to freshen the atmosphere and give me some form of company, like some horticultural masculine version of a cat lady.  My credentials as a ‘plant man’ were furthered on the first Friday evening when I added the latest addition to my family and decided to name it.  To mask the glaring absence of a female presence around my flat, I determined that the new houseplant must be female, and so I gave the plant the name Sally, after my favourite Lou Reed song Sally Can’t Dance – because, for as lovely as she was to look at, she had little in the way of rhythm

The previous owner informed me that the majority of the plants I inherited belong to the cacti family, and I undertook a Google search to learn the best methods of caring for them.  I was pleased to find that the plants require very little attention, infrequent watering and for all intents and purposes practically thrive on neglect.  They were, in that respect, broadly similar to the majority of my social relationships.

I knew from the first night that music was going to be a frequent feature in my flat.  I spent all of my time telling anyone who would listen that my place would be a destination where people can drop by any time and listen to good music and drink responsibly priced wine; a sort of refuge for the bohemians and the boozers, for the lovers of Merlot and Marillion.

To that end, I invested in one of the well-reviewed Sonos sound systems, and it was one of the very first things I made sure was in position on removal day.  The quality of sound emitted from such a relatively small speaker is remarkable.  It can fill a room with ease, though my flat is so small that filling the living room with sound pretty much fills the entire apartment.  In order to achieve this, the Sonos app employs a technique it calls ‘Trueplay Tuning’.  During the initial setup, once I had decided where in the room my speaker was going to be positioned, the app asked me to walk around the room waving my mobile phone up and down so that it could tailor the sound produced by the speaker to the room.  It was at this point on Friday morning, as I was walking slowly around my living room waving my phone like a magician suffering a terrible seizure, that I felt thankful that I live alone and have net curtains.

After a busy moving in day filling my living room with music and decanting my books onto the bookcase in their alphabetical and colour coded order, I set about cooking my first meal in my new flat.  Being short of time I opted for something light and easy and tossed a couple of venison burgers into the oven.  I wouldn’t normally buy venison burgers on account of finding them a little deer, but they were on offer for £1.99 from Lidl and it seemed like a good buy.

As time passed I became accustomed to living life as a single occupant.  Although it is true that most of the houseplants died, with the exception of Sally, who still can’t dance, and company remains at a premium – being the 25% discount on council tax which the local government applies in exchange for me living alone – I am largely comfortable.  The kitchen cupboards remain a source of confusion, and the expansion of my collection of books has brought chaos to the bookcase, but I haven’t once misplaced my keys.  The obsessive behaviour I had developed as a pre-teen male was finally proving useful in adulthood.

This post was first published on 21 January 2018. The original content can be viewed here.

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The week after I dumped my dead houseplants
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